I'm working through the website For Better for Verse, and I'm currently working on a scansion of Thomas Hardy's "The Oxen". The last verse looks like this:

"In the lonely barton by yonder comb
Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

Everything but the second to last line of the poem is straightforward to scan:

"In the lon|ely bar|ton by yon|der comb|
Our child|hood used| to know|,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping| it might| be so|.

However, the second to last line is very interesting because it's ambiguous. The first time I read that line, I interpreted the first foot as a trochee, i.e. I should go with him in the gloom. However, For Better for Verse seems to prefer an iambic tetrameter, i.e. I should go with him in the gloom. Both interpretations appear to be equally valid.

For Better for Verse has a little blurb justifying its scansion of the poem, but I thought it would be interesting to open this question up to the community. So what do you all think, and more importantly, why?

  • 1
    You could actually interpret the first three feet of that line as trochees. (Or alternatively, three iambs with the first one headless, followed by an anapest.)
    – Peter Shor
    Jul 25, 2017 at 4:07
  • @PeterShor well, the good news is that in this question, the difference actually matters.
    – user111
    Jul 25, 2017 at 4:14
  • I was going to downvote this, thinking it's the kind of question that's too much a matter of personal taste to be answered objectively, but after seeing the answers I've come to realise that this sort of question is actually Good Subjective, and I've upvoted it.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jul 31, 2017 at 15:11

2 Answers 2


I think your instincts are very good in choosing a trochee for the beginning of the third line.

  • Emphasizing the "I" is meaningful

The poet sets up this line by musing that if a person said the animals are kneeling, the poet would go out in the darkness to see.

  • Emphasizing "should" renders the line robotic

Meter is often used to set up a variation in meter. This is surely the case with this particular line, although the position only partly aesthetic:

  • Emphasizing the "should" undermines meaning in not having this crucial line stand out and draw attention to itself

Hopefully I'm explaining it clearly, but in maintaining the rhythm of the previous line, the independent thought of third line is overrun by the "momentum" of the second line.


You could scan the second to last line as three trochees followed by an iamb.

"In the lón|ely bár|ton by yón|der cóomb|
Our chíld|hood úsed| to knów|,"
Í should| gó with| hím in| the glóom|,
Hóping| it míght| be só|.

I don't believe the straight iambic scansion works anywhere near as well. It puts stress on should, which is a relatively unimportant auxiliary verb. It also puts stress on two prepositions — with and in — while leaving the stress off main verb of the sentence, go.

In my opinion, the line works better if you start it with two trochees, so as to emphasize I and go. So:

Í should| gó with| hím in| the glóom|


Í should| gó with| him ín| the glóom|.

Possibly, the second one is better, because it's closer to iambic tetrameter, the main meter of the poem.

  • 1
    It's an interesting breakdown of the third line, but I wouldn't dismiss "with" for being a preposition. The "withness" regarding the "intoness" of the gloom may be the precisely the point. I'd argue that the prepositions are far more important than the pronoun "him" in this line, which is about going into the gloom.
    – DukeZhou
    Jul 25, 2017 at 21:00
  • 1
    @DukeZhou: you're right that him is relatively unimportant, so two trochees followed by two iambs works just as well. But I really feel like you need to put stress on go. The important point is that you're going, not that you're accompanying him.
    – Peter Shor
    Jul 26, 2017 at 10:36
  • 1
    @PeterShor That's valid. I suppose it depends on what one wants to emphasize. (I see it as a comment on faith and its appeal, so "with" the adherent prophesying a miracle among the flock is central. The poet is commenting that he would join this person in their belief, where hope is a beacon against the existential darkness.) Stressing "go" does have a nice imperative quality, I'll grant you that.
    – DukeZhou
    Jul 26, 2017 at 15:15
  • You got me thinking about who "him" is. The word is uncapitalized, which led me to initially dismiss it, but the theme and setting caused me to revisit. If the "him" is a certain child of Nazareth, I might deliver the line: I should / go with / him in / the gloom (I'd still break the established rhythm to emphasize "with him" in this case.)
    – DukeZhou
    Jul 27, 2017 at 15:49
  • "I don't think it works anywhere near as well." Could you edit the answer and elaborate?
    – user111
    Aug 24, 2017 at 16:07

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